I have been a runner for ten years nw. I have participated in competitive running for most of my school years, and I can say with absolute certainty that imagining life without this sport is almost impossible. It all started with my mother denying me my “right” to play football, which was the sport that I wanted to play at the time. “You’ll appreciate it when you’re older,” she would always tell me; somehow, she saw that I would not be a good football player due to the lack of my upper body strength and my “nice” personality. I was especially upset because the season before, I had been the star halfback on the team, scoring eight touchdowns; the only player on the team that was able to score!
I guess my mother got tired of watching her little boy running around with all those bigger defensive linemen (keep in mind that this is in the third grade) trying to tackle Him. The turning point came when we played a team based out of Linton, Indiana. I remember lining up against their gray jerseys; my mom and I both saw the same thing: Those kids were huge! There was no way we were going to get past them. I also think that she grew tired of the trash talk between the teams. One of the last games of the season involved us playing a team with yellow jerseys (sponsored by the fast food chain McDonalds), and we were wearing our green jerseys. Several kids on the other team were yelling insults at us, like “Hey! We hate green beans!” We kept quiet, but I really think that several of us were thinking about yelling back to them, “Yeah, but we love french fries!”
Despite some of the lopsided line-ups and the playground trash talkers, those were some fun times. However, as I look back on it now, I realize that my mother was right. I am, by no means, the right size to succeed in football. I am definitely cut out to be a runner, and I have enjoyed the time I have spent developing my talents on the course.
That being said, it would be hard to participate in something for so long and not give it any thought. I have pondered many things pertaining to running; these thoughts have changed throughout my career. Thoughts such as thinking “why in the world do I do this?” at the starting line and “this has to be the worst decision in my life” have changed into “how can I improve my times this week?” and “I can’t wait to get out there and show the world how I have improved this season.” As I am growing in my maturity as a runner, I am beginning to relate my experiences as a collegiate athlete to God and His word. There are several lessons that can be learned from athletics; for my background, I prefer long-distance running to be the specified genre. We will go over a few of these below.
I have always run long distances in races. I have almost never had the experience of running one hundred meters in a few quick seconds and being finished for the day. This is because I am not, by nature, a sprinter. To those who are able to do this, I applaud their talents and efforts, but I will never know how this feels. Every race that I have run is a long one; such races include the 8000 meter run (4.9 miles), the 10,000 meter run (6.2 miles), the 5000 meter run (3.1 miles), and in years past, the 1600 meter run (1 mile). These races require the quality of perseverance, which is defined in the dictionary as “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” This is almost a perfect definition when it comes to competitive running. Anyone who has run long distances before will tell you that it is hard. You muscles ache with fatigue, your body is tired all around, it is more difficult to breathe (especially if you struggle with asthma, as do I), and there will almost always be some sort of ache or pain that arises during the race that you have to fight through. It takes every ounce of perseverance that you can muster to finish a race, especially if the circumstances are not ideal (weather, pain, etc).
Just as perseverance is key in distance running, it is also important to our walk with Christ. God’s word does not say that it will be an easy walk; in fact, living out a genuine faith in Christ is one of the hardest things in this world to do. In John 15:18, Jesus says that “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you” (NKJV). The reason to why it can be so hard to truly follow Christ is because God chose us out of the world to be His followers, as stated in John 15:19: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Because we are not of the world, meaning that we are no longer associated with our worldly, sinful nature, those who are still in the world will hate us. This is where perseverance comes in to play. When trials come, we need to remember what James tells us in James 1:2-3: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” Not only are we commanded to persevere under trials; we are commanded to take joy in them! I usually do not take joy in the way I feel near the end of the race. I’m tired, and I want to be done. However, I need to realize that whatever I am doing, and whenever I am doing it, I can bring glory to God, no matter how I feel. The same goes for our Christian walk. We need to persevere in Christ, knowing that we have a hope in Him, and no matter what we are going through, we need to give glory to Him.
Each sport has key performances to show off the skill/improvement of the organization. These are usually referred to as games, matches, or meets. In competitive running, the race is this performance. Realizing this, and knowing when the race date is, runners prepare themselves for the big day. This includes eating a good, healthy diet, getting the right amount of sleep, structuring hard and easy workouts so that improvements can be made without interfering with the later race day, developing the right mindset prior to the race, and even going as far as to gather up the right supplies the night before the race. Both these and other preparations are important for doing well when test day (race day) arrives.
In our walk with Christ, we need to be prepared for whatever may come our way. One way we can do this is by following what the book of Proverbs says: Get wisdom. Proverbs 2:1-6 states the following: “My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
According to the book of Proverbs, wisdom will keep you from the wayward woman (7:6-27), the laziness (6:10-11), and from the way of fools (1:7). Arming oneself with God’s wisdom can help the discernment process as trials and temptations arise throughout our walks. Another way we can prepare ourselves in the Christian walk is to dive into scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Adequate preparation for future tests and tribulations could very well mean the difference between life and death. Usually, inadequate preparation for a race will not result in death, but one can very well fall into serious trouble if he or she is not grounded in the Word. Therefore, we should prepare for everything the sinful world has to throw at us by obtaining Godly wisdom and grounding ourselves in the Word of God.
This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of being an athlete. Athletes compete against each other, and frequently there are feelings of extreme hatred exchanged between opposing organizations, especially if they are rivals. For some reason, many athletes have the reputation of being very egocentric and “cocky;” what good sportsmanship seeks to do is eliminate hateful feelings between the opposing sides, both before, during and after a competition. I have been in difficult situations before when it comes to sportsmanship. Often times, it is hard to congratulate a rival who just barely beats you to the finish line, especially if I was working so hard to beat him during the race. Other times I struggle with congratulating those who are very arrogant about their performance. Also, I have even struggled at times to congratulate those on my own team who finish before I do. All these things come with constant work and maturity as a runner, but they are not easy. Being the bigger athlete is not just about being the best; it is, in large part, about who can have the best character.
In the same way, we can struggle with “sportsmanship” in our Christian walk. Those who are mean to us may take some extra gumption to exhibit love towards. In Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.” These sets of instructions are difficult to follow; our natural response is to instantly hate those who wrong us. Just as it is our natural response to become annoyed with those who beat us in races, it is hard to show love to those we don’t like. However, it is important to develop this attribute. Showing love to our enemies in our Christian walk will not only “reap heaping coals of fire upon their heads” (Proverbs 25:22), but you will exemplify Christ in your life. Just as it is important to show good sportsmanship in athletic competitions, we must show love to those to whom it is hard to get along with.
Listening to Advice
All successful athletic teams have a coach. This individual is one who directs the course of the team by presenting instructions to the participants in order to better the performances of the athletes. I am blessed to be surrounded by those who know more about running than I do; whether they be athletic trainers, coaches, or teammates. It is important to listen to what they have to say if I am to improve. For example, I have been corrected on my running form (the way I position my body when I run) in the past. Because I listened and corrected the problems, I now feel as if my runs are much more efficient than they have been in the past. Listening to instructions is definitely a good way to go.
There are many examples in scripture about mentor/mentored relationships in scripture. Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:1 to “not rebuke an older man,” meaning not to take lightly the instruction of the wise (it is still important to discern the information you get). In Proverbs, there is the essence of a father-son relationship in many of the chapters (Proverbs 1:8). Also, Jesus yielded to the authority of the Father through numerous amounts of obedience and prayer. These examples serve to prove that listening to the instructions of those who are older and more mature (such as a church elder) can profit us majorly in our Christian walk. We need to listen to God and His word as well as those who are more knowledgeable than we are. This involves a great deal of humility. The natural man wants desperately to assert that he knows it all; coming back down to Earth and realizing that the contrary is true is not something that we can do on our own. My life in Christ helps me to realize that I need to be humble and seek out advice, accountability partners, and Biblical truths that will help me live a life that is more glorifying to Christ. Just as I listen to my coaches and running mentors, I need to listen to the positive spiritual authority around me.
So as we have seen, there are several lessons from athletics that can be applied to our walks with Christ. Both come with their challenges, but both come with their rewards. What we should remember is that in spite of the challenges that life throws our direction, we need to conquer them and use them for the glory of God. God has done so much for us; we can devote our entire lives to Him.